Climate change, sustainability, carbon emissions. By this time it might be fair to say that every person must be somewhat familiar with these terms. Indeed it has become a major point of discussion and every company, every country is trying tackle the issue. The will and effectiveness of the measures taken so far is up for debate of course. Metaverse, in addition to other factors, will also be judged upon its sustainability.
In 2020 the pandemic halted the whole world. This led to a “new normal”. The world wide travel comes to a halt and even the simple act of going to the market becomes next to impossible. The silver lining of this pandemic? Carbon emissions dropped by 5.4% in 2020.
Of course this is in not the the full story. Major cut backs in emission was due to travel restrictions. Moreover the emissions bounced back towards the end of 2020 as situation started to settle again.
The third largest contribution towards carbon emission world wide is surface transport at 21%. Another 2.8% comes from the aviation. Combining both of them increases the overall emissions to 24%. This is higher than the second largest contributor which is industry at 22.4%. If you are curious about the largest carbon emission sector, its power sector at a whopping 44.3%!
The pandemic has accelerated the development of VR technology. According to Mathew Ball from Epyllion Co, ” The metaverse has become the newest macro-goal for many of the world’s tech giants”. Can Metaverse contribute towards reduction in these figures?
Positive Impact of Metaverse
Metaverse has the potential of limiting a lot of everyday activities that are detrimental to the environment.
Reduction in Travel
The obvious advantage of using the platform is that it eliminates the need to travel. This will help in reducing the carbon emissions due to travelling.
For example the office workers would not have to travel to the offices. They can simply enter the office space virtually and can interact with the co-workers sufficiently.
Another area where it can reduce need for travel is events such as concerts. Artists and the fans can simply enjoy it virtually without the need for anyone to travel. This will reduce the costs for event organizers. Also there will be no limit to how many people can attend.
Similarly, military training activities such as pilot training can be done on the platform. Not just military, but trainings in general where travelling is required can be managed virtually. This will not only reduce carbon emissions but also time and money.
Less electricity consumption of offices
These changes in the lifestyle can then have a snow ball effect. With large number of people working remotely the need to build new office spaces, roads and other transport infrastructure will decrease. In US, commercial buildings consume 35% of the total electricity. Therefore the carbon emissions related to these activities will also decrease.
Fewer office buildings will leave more space. Commercial buildings constitute 25% of the area covered by all buildings in US. 18% of the 25% consists of offices. Converting these places into green areas could help controlling the pollution of the cities.
Virtual Fashion will reduce impact of fast fashion
Another area where Metaverse can help the environment is virtual fashion. Clothing industry is also one of the major polluters. It requires more than 3000 liters and emits 33.4 kg of CO2 just for 1 pair of jeans. Fashion industry is responsible for 10% of carbon emissions. Moreover 20% of the waste water worldwide comes from fashion industry.
Virtual fashion in Metaverse will help in reducing the impact of fashion industry. Nike and Adidas are already exploring this space. Adidas has established the Bored Ape Yacht Club on Metaverse.
Negative Impact on Environment
On one hand Metaverse will help on reducing carbon emissions due to travelling. However, on the other hand it will also cause increase in the carbon emissions. Metaverse uses technologies such as Virtual Reality, AI and blockchain which consume a lot of energy.
Energy consumption of Data centers
Moreover the datacenters required to deliver the various elements of Metaverse also have adverse effect on the environment. According to an article published by Guardian in 2015, datacenters were responsible for 2% of greenhouse emissions. This is the same as air travel. This number has likely risen. During the last 7 years other cloud gaming platforms have also been introduced so the number of datacenters have increased around the globe. Another study by Bristol University UK found that if 90% of the gamers started cloud gaming the gaming carbon emission could increase by 112%.
Carbon emissions of AI models training
AI, is another energy consuming technology. To train an AI requires a lot of energy. For example Nvidia’s StyleGAN3, consumes 225 megawatts of energy. This is enough energy to power thousands of homes. Training AI model can emit as much carbon as 5 cars in their lifetime!
Not just limited to Metaverse, E-waste is another problem faced by tech industry. Annually the electronic equipment usage is growing by 2.5%. This has led to 53.6 million tons of e-waste in 2019. If the growth continues without any steps to solve the issue, it can reach 74.7 million tons by 2030.
Metaverse which requires extra hardware will accelerate the process. Currently only 17.4% of the e-waste is recycled. Unless it increases dramatically, most of the hardware related to Metaverse will also be dumped.
While the positives of the Metaverse are great, its also important to reduce the negative effects of this technology. In this regard big companies such as Amazon and Microsoft already taking steps. Amazon Web services aims to be using 100% renewable energy by 2025. Microsoft aims to be carbon negative by 2030.
Moreover, development of efficient hardware and software can help reduce the energy consumption. By improving power supplies of their is potential to save 13% energy. The software used, if written efficiently requires less computing power. So it is imperative that research is done on software methods that can help in reducing energy consumption.
No technology can be completely sustainable unless it has no negative impact on environment. Other than carbon emissions, e-waste should also be minimized if not eliminated. Companies and the governments worldwide must spend more resources to ensure that electronics are recycled.